Vladimir Putin has been coming in for a great deal of criticism lately from Americans, especially in light of his op-ed in the New York Times.
The op-ed was obviously hand crafted to present Russia and Putin's case in the best light, but isn't that what op-eds are supposed to do?
Here are the main point Putin makes here. Let's look at them one by one:
- A strike on Syria poses a huge risk to escalate the conflict in the Middle East and could destabilize the region.
Absolutely true. Aside from any hostilities between Iran, Hezbollah and Israel (I think the odds are perhaps at least 50-50 here). There's also the risk of establishing another Hamasistan on Israel's borders armed with Assad's weaponry, a very likely scenario given whom the insurgents actually are. And there's also a major risk of destabilizing U.S. client state Jordan,where the Muslim Brotherhood is extremely powerful. King Abdullah has obviously considered this, since he's adamant that no attacks on Assad be launched from Jordan's soil.
- The fight in Syria is not between a democratic opposition and a dictator but a sectarian civil war, with the opposition dominated by Islamist jihadis domestic and foreign with allegiances to al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
He's right again on that one, as I reported here. And just as in Libya, where President Obama's clueless intervention on behalf of the Islamists put weaponry and armaments in the hands of jihadis who then went on to attack neighboring countries, an intervention in Syria risks a similar outcome.
When Putin told British PM David Cameron that the jihadis that beheaded a British soldier in broad daylight in London were no different than the majority of the Syrian insurgents, he was simply stating a fact. Bad as Assad is, these people are infinitely worse.
- From the outset, Russia has attempted to work with President Obama and the UN on a diplomatic solution to the war in Syria. Putin writes "We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not."
From his perspective, Putin is again correct. He's consistent touted a diplomatic solution, but simply refused to sign off on an attack on an ally and client in order to put the Islamists in power.
- Poison gas was definitely used in Syria, but it could just as easily been used by the opposition forces to provoke intervention as by the Syrian Army.
He's right again, as far as I'm concerned. As I reported here, there's no conclusive evidence who used the poison gas first, and in reality, the insurgents were in a position to benefit much more than the Assad regime from a gas attack.
- America has used what Putin terms 'brute force' intervening in a number of countries since 9/11. He cites Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, none of which could be called successes in any sense of the word. Moreover, these sort of interventions send a message to some of the world's bad actors that actually promotes the proliferation of WMDS. As Putin outs it, "The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded."
Putin's has a point here. While not all U.S. interventions have been so poorly thought out or strategically bungled, lately our record has been pretty poor. Putin undoubtedly also has Kosovo on his mind, where we violated international law to bomb our historic ally Serbia's military installations and civilians to intervene in a sectarian civil war during the Clinton years. Then there was Libya's Khaddaffi, who voluntarily gave up his own WMD arsenal and then was attacked by the West and ended up as an extrajudicial execution victim whose corpse was sodomized. This was a major wake up call to a lot of countries, especially in the Middle East. Certainly the Iranians see it that way.
Putin finishes up by throwing President Obama a bone, saying their working relation is improving, but then comments on President Obama's throw away line on on American exceptionalism, where he stated that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.”
Obviously, President Obama tossed that out as a feel good tidbit, because based on almost every action he's taken since he took office President Obama obviously doesn't believe it himself. Putin finishes by saying: "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."
Fine, the line on G-d is a bit stilted coming from a former KGB leader. But while America is exceptional, what President Putin is reminding Americans here is that other countries feel the same way about themselves. It's called nationalism. We've simply gotten a little unused to thinking that way, because it's been a long time since America had a president who considers America's interests first...the way Putin does Russia's.
That's why he's so popular with the majority of Russians.
Is this the start of a new Cold War? Hardly. Vladimir Putin is not our enemy per se. He's merely seeking to derive maximum advantage for Russia. And if we elect a clueless, narcissistic amateur as our commander-in-chief, can we really blame Putin for using that to his country's advantage?
It's like judo, where you manipulate an opponent's strength against him. Putin's good at judo. Barack Obama never even played the game.